I hadn't even heard much of anything about Hand of Fate from Defiant Development when I got the early Xbox One key, so i went in with virtually zero expectations. Suffice to say, I was absolutely astounded by the experience I had with the game, with some caveats that I'll get to shortly. If you've never even imagined a replayable, expandable micro-RPG with major roguelike and deck building elements, you'll probably have the same expectations I did when I went into it, and you'll almost certainly be blown away by the result.
Coming into it with an affinity for both deck building games and replayable action-RPGs, I was predisposed to appreciate the combination. However, words fail me at describing just how seamlessly Defiant Development managed to blend the tailored experience aspect of deck building games with the hack-and-slash excitement of action-RPGs. If you've ever wanted to have some control over what you see in your Diablo III rift, Hand of Fate brings you that choice. Ultimately, Hand of Fate pits you as the player against a malevolent dealer, whose goal is not only to end your journey with a gruesome death, but to make you feel as though you're doing well up until that point. He seems to derive some pleasure from that, and it makes his character that much creepier.
There is one important caveat to this whole collection of accolades, I'm afraid. The game is still buggy, despite it having gone gold. It's got glitches that will cause you to die and have to restart, unless you're quick about quitting the game. My launch-window Xbox One had far more troubles than my more recent console acquisition, but both experienced similarly fatal issues with the game that required, ultimately, force quitting the game, and/or restarting the console.
That being said, this is one of the most unexpectedly impressive gaming experiences I've had in recent memory, made even more remarkable considering it's from a $50,000 Kickstarter. Hand of Fate is what happens when Kickstarter truly works, and I'm just happy that everybody will have the opportunity for the same glorious-yet-painful experience that I had the joy of experiencing.
Starting off, you'll have a low-level Equipment Deck and similarly low-level Encounters Deck, which will work together to decide your fate. As you play through a few times and defeat the early bosses, you'll fill out each deck - you don't have much choice, as the required deck size goes up as you progress through the campaign - until eventually, you'll be able to customize both decks to suit your playstyle. You'll never get to the point of min/maxing to any great extent, but if you'd rather favor dodging traps, you can include those cards. If you like combat, you can include an abundance of those. If you want to stick to ponderous choices, you can minimize the action encounters with deliberate choice. That's the deck building. Some of the fun, of course, will come from what min/maxing you can do. Maybe you want to focus on collecting gold and frequenting shops one game. Alternately, you might want to go whole hog on combat, and reap the rewards of being a proficient fighter. You'll have fun with either, but both (and more) are available to suit the varying tastes of the whole of the gaming community.
There's an overarching story, but the "micro-rpg" comes from the elements of each individual playthrough. Each time you play in campaign mode, you'll hit 20-50 Encounter cards, each of which tells its own minor story. As you string 30 of these together, you'll have a larger mission story, and then, when you string together the dozen playthroughs it takes to complete the game, you have your overarching story. The early playthroughs will feed new cards into later playthroughs, opening up new Encounters and Items, allowing fuller customization of the decks. If you're putting in a slew of Plague minion Encounter cards, you might want the Rat Cleaver equipment card to help you deal with them more efficiently. If you're favoring Skull minions, you'll probably want the Skeleton King's Shield, which lets you one-shot them all day long. This is exactly the sort of deck tweaking that makes the later campaign missions not only more fun, but, frankly, possible at all.
The action-RPG element makes up a small portion of the game, but do make for the entirety of the boss encounters, so don't expect to enjoy it too much if you don't like hacking and slashing your way through an occasional event. It's perfectly competent gameplay, but, aside from the special abilities, doesn't really do anything particularly novel in that category. The action-RPG side of things is played up entirely too heavily in the trailers, honestly, and can be minimized by constructing the appropriate Encounters deck. If you do like this side of the game, however, as before, you can make it the focus of your Encounters deck if you so choose.
The core of the game is a combination of choice and chance. Most encounters will give you a choice. You find a cursed coffin in the middle of the desert. Do you open it, sell it, or walk away? When you make your choice, you'll get your chance. You try to sell it, so you have a Success, a Great Success, and two Failure cards. They'll shuffle, and you'll pick one to see what happens. Maybe you'll make bank. Maybe you'll get cursed anyways. Hand of Fate requires a willingness to try again, as well as a healthy dose of curiosity. If you're unwilling to take a risk to see what the Twilight Ritual Encounter does, you probably won't have that much fun when it turns out that everything referencing demons is bad. Who could have seen that coming, right?!
If you don't mind a little genre-bending complexity to your gaming experience and, just as important, don't mind restarting the game when it starts acting up, you absolutely must try Hand of Fate. To seamlessly blend so many genres into a single cohesive experience is more than a masterstroke by a company whose motto is "We Make Games." That you do, folks. That you do.